Tuscan Culinary Artist and Farmer: Giancarlo Toso

Many Italian men that I know were schooled in their mama’s kitchen. Personally I bow down to any man that knows how to make a mean marinara sauce! One such culinary genius is Giancarlo Toso. Giancarlo (GC) is il contadino (the farmer) and proprietor of the Podere Spedalone, an agriturismo or farmhouse subdivided into charming Tuscan style apartments.

Giancarlo passionately embraces the Tuscan farmhouse and land in which he has restored and is one of those Renaissance men who does it all. (Me) “This jam is delicious!  (GC) “Oh, grazie, I made it with the berries that I cultivate in my garden.” (Me) “Of course you did! Before or after pressing the olives for your amazing extra virgin olive oil?

Rising at five am, Giancarlo finds has way through the darkness of the courtyard to his professional grade kitchen, ready to prepare the daily breakfast for his guests. The breakfast at Podere Spedalone is not your standard B & B fare. As a guest at Spedalone one can happily wake to the smell of fresh baked breads and pastries, along with a spread of homemade yogurts, cheeses and organic jams, all hand made with the organic fruits and or produced by animals raised on site, by who else, Giancarlo.

Podere Spedalone is a historic Tuscan farm, nestled amongst the rolling hills, in one of the most beautiful areas of the Crete Senesi. The farmhouse has a rich history dating back to 600 A.D., when it was originally a Roman settlement. Historical records also note that Spedalone served as a “Hospitalis Sancti Benedicti”- or rest stop, run by Benedictine monks for 13th century pilgrims traveling along the Francigena route from France to Rome.

Giancarlo has worked hard to preserve this history and has created a place of tranquility and authenticity for all those who visit from around the world. “ We continue our research everyday, driven by the conviction that Spedalone is hiding other secrets and treasure seeking to come to light and illuminate the trails of our past,” states Giancarlo.

In 2004, Giancarlo purchased Podere Spedalone in partial ruins. In the span of 2 short years, with the help of many skilled masons and the architectural talent of his 80 year old mother, Giancarlo and company completed the beautiful restoration of Podere Spedalone. Quite an achievement and such a beautiful memorial to his  mother who has since passed.

On any given evening one can enjoy the incredible sunsets at Spedalone with an aperativo of light finger food and bubbly drink. The fritatta is scrumptious and the pecorino (sheep’s cheese), paired with a prosecco cocktail that GC concocts is out of this world!

Aperativo is just the prelude to GC’s multi course gourmet cena- family style dinner, crafted from only the freshest ingredients, yummm! The menu may includes vegetables, lemons, kumquats and, of course, olives all grown on the property.  GC also raises his own fowl and pigs, some of which he cures himself, of course.

Our meal included multiple course offerings starting with bruschetta, followed by a  ravioli in a sage sauce, Cinghiali (wild boar) in a red wine sauce, excellent local wine selections, local cheeses, several after dinner drink options and three desserts. One dessert was a homemade gelato topped with a very sweet, very aged balsamic vinegar. I know strange combination, yet, believe me, it’s heavenly! GC’s wonderfully authentic Tuscan meals are unforgettable and thoughtfully plated in an artistic way.

When you are not eating, days at Speadalone can be spent close by just walking on one of the quiet trails, which abound with wildflowers and small lizards. When I stay, I can be found mountain biking the local dirt roads (strada bianca) which provide opportunities for exploring the spine of the Crete, with breathtaking views from every angle. These roads made me fall in love with this area so many years ago. Or, alternatively, spend a lazy afternoon perched by the pool and olive tree groves with a good book. I am content to just meditate on the patterns of the wind dancing through the mature wheat fields and the panoramic views of the beautiful Tuscan countryside. This place digs at my soul and makes me a better person!

In my husband, Bill’s, opinion, “ Stay at any other Tuscan agriturismo and you may get a beautiful room with a view, but stay at Spedalone and you get all that plus, Giancarlo’s passion for the land, history, cooking, agriculture and sensitivity to the many nuances of Toscana.” It will feel as though you gained an Italian zio (uncle) before you leave. Some of our friends stayed at Spedalone with their sons last summer. Never were three teen boys happier just following GC around the farm, feeding the pigs, exploring, playing in the pool, riding bikes, making pizza together and learning all the ins-and-outs of a farmer’s life and history of the area.

Visit Spedalone’s beauty and solitude in this unique slice of Tuscan heaven, but stay for Giancarlo’s warmth and generosity expressed through his gastronomic delights far beyond any marinara sauce. Such a find and such a fine man.

If you want to set up a few days (minimum 2 nights) or a week at Podere Spedalone, contact Giancarlo and tell him that Betsy from Custom Tuscany sent you. If you want to discover the area by bicycle or car, let Custom Tuscany help you set up an incredible, personalized itinerary for your perfect Tuscan vacation!


04/23/2011 04:18 am | Share | No Comments

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